Is dating in a virtual world virtually the death of monogamy?

This week, I have been interviewing virtual nudists in the name of research (a dirty job but someone has to do it…) to document their experiences, and it has started me thinking about the nature of peoples virtual, or second, sex lives. My interviewees were all male, which meant I was in a prime position to extract the male perspective on virtual dating and virtual sex – An understanding of which, has often eluded me. While talking with these male nudists, one thing became clear early on; they were all sexually active in Second Life® and appeared to love it. But the most obvious aspect of their second sex lives was that none of them appeared to be seeking or missing a monogamous virtual relationship. They were all putting it out there!

The first man I spoke to explained to me how he had never really needed to look for virtual sex, it usually found him. He was of the belief that living in a virtual world led to a level of promiscuity, and that women could express their sexuality far easier virtually than in reality. For him, virtual sex was more readily available and “just happened”, as if by magic perhaps? He told me that most of the women he has slept with confide in him that the virtual sex experience has resulted in a real life orgasm, but were they virtually faking it? He did not believe that it was all about the nudity and the sex; he liked to think his communication and social skills contributed to his ability to get laid in Second Life®.

The second guy I met with told me he enjoyed virtual living because of the convenience; he can just push a couple of buttons and be on a beach nude, flirting and having sex. Is virtual dating the drive-through take-out equivalent of a three course meal? Or a hit and run? So, what are the benefits of virtual sex? Well, according to the men I meet in-world there are low stakes with virtual sex, it makes a person feel more confident, and the sex is “safe”. But what are their views on women and their virtual sexuality? Most men I speak to feel women are more attracted to the mind than the body, but are they fooling themselves? That beautiful, willowy brunette with the Angelina Jolie curves and sultry smile bouncing enthusiastically on top of you in Second Life® could be tall, dark and hairy in real life with an Adams Apple and an erection.

Finally, for the third interviewee, Second Life® was, by this point unsurprisingly, more sexual generally. He explained to me that he enjoys the journey; not worrying about the ending, the more cynical among you may be forgiven for wondering if he was hoping to impress me by saying this in order to get lucky…. He confided in me that he had discovered some women are very uninhibited in Second Life®. He told me he has a good female friend, who would have sex with anything that moved. I asked him if he thought that virtual monogamy was achievable, his response was that he felt monogamy was only possible for a time, but there are too many temptations, especially for a man. So, does virtual monogamy have a time limit? An expiration date? And if it does is that a bad thing? His view was that it is not real life; he had always been open about the fact that his relationships were temporary, disposable – the tampon of the modern virtual relationship? A man who knows how to make a woman feel special…

What about the ladies? One guy I interviewed decided to tell me about his most outrageous female friend, who has a virtual boyfriend, but also has a second avatar that she uses to go out and have sex with other men. What do I think of that as a woman? I think she must be exhausted, two lives is enough for me. More controversially, how do we even know that she is a woman in real life, and if she isn’t a real life woman does it matter? One could argue that three male nudists are not representative of the male virtual population, but I found their parting shots as our interviews concluded more revealing. One got up to leave telling me I was stimulating, fun and that my desirability had been raised to a whole new level. Another left me a message following the interview saying that he would love to enjoy my company. The third interviewee left saying he would like to get to know me better; that he thought it would be interesting.

Is virtual dating the death of monogamy? I think for some, it was never their intention to be monogamous in the first place, and they are honest about it, they are living out their fantasies in a “safe” environment. For others, they just “forgot” to tell their virtual partners that they could not be virtually faithful, a form of virtual amnesia perhaps? Are men who choose not to be monogamous in a virtual world only stimulated by pixel porn and typing dirty? I think that it is certainly part of it, but the ones I speak to enjoy the mental stimulation too, the “connection”, or maybe just the thrill of the chase. And, there is evidence to suggest that a growing number of the female virtual population are exploring their virtual sexuality too, and not always monogamously.

But there is a bigger, far wider question; I have deliberately chosen not to answer here. If any of the above men (and women) have real life partners, have they told them they are having sex with other people in Second Life®? If not, is it infidelity?

Josephina Bonetto for Altamoda Magazine’s Sex and the Sity – Published on 28 May 2008